Wednesday, February 02, 2011

On the Nature of God's Calling

A church in my area is having a sort of testimony festival. Everyone is encouraged to come and share a testimony, thus encouraging folks and getting people saved. Yup, that's what they're saying.

Now, me being a snarky son-of-a-gun, my first reaction is to think about how painful that would be to sit through, and my slightly guilt-driven second reaction is to try to be generous and think how encouraged lots of folks might be by it all.

Then again . . . we have Mark Galli writing about testimony at Christianity Todayin an articled entitled Are We Transformed Yet?
I think one of the most spiritually dangerous practices today is encouraging people—in small groups or in front of the church or even in print—to talk about how God has transformed them. They are told to explain how they used to have a bad temper or a problem with porn or were stingy or had one bad habit or another—and through prayer, effort, and grace, they have been changed. The formal glory all goes to God, of course, but the focus unfortunately is often on the self—on how I have been changed.
Our desire to be thought well of, to be recognized, to garner accolades, is very strong. Galli's next paragraph is deadly accurate.
Those who share such testimonies cannot but be tempted, as was the Pharisee in Jesus' parable [Luke 18:9-14]: "Lord, I thank thee that I am transformed, that I am not like this untransformed fellow next to me." And those who hear such testimonies find themselves praying, "Lord, why am I still struggling with this and that; why am I not like this transformed person?"
Galli's ultimate point is that we ought to take the spotlight off ourselves and mostly keep it off ourselves.

This is in line with something Piper said recently. Piper refers to the writings of the 19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne:
God had given McCheyne the gospel key to pursuing personal holiness.

He received it through the teaching of Thomas Chalmers. Chalmers was very concerned about excessive introspection in the pursuit of holiness. He knew that a believer cannot make progress in holiness without basing it on the assurance of salvation. And yet the effort to look into our sinful hearts for some evidences of grace usually backfires. [HT: Justin Taylor]
That's so with me, anyway. If I look into my own sanctification I have a tendency to whine, "What sanctification?" Because I don't actually see it.

Which brings me to Chaplain Mike's response to Galli's article. Mike speaks of the need for humility.
Humility is not self-loathing, but self-forgetfulness. We look away from ourselves to Christ.
But "self-forgetfulness" is not our default position. Not only that, but it does seem that most of our best-selling (best-marketed) Christian books and music encourages self-focus, not self-forgetting. That's a pretty strong indictment, but it's true.

All this is another reason that evangelical ambition can be so dangerous. The holy-seeming desire to do great things for God--the very basis of most youth-ministry--makes us deeply dissatisfied with the ministry of the ordinary (sometimes known as "the daily grind"). We want our personal story to be an outstanding example of sanctification. We want to impress. We'll give the glory to God, of course, as long as someone notices. In fact, I have seen plenty of folks work hard at their "Ministry" to the neglect of their families, all the while saying they're devoting themselves to the work of God. They came up with a clever name for their Ministry, printed up the three-color brochures, learned public speaking, established a glossy-edgy website, and yet their families were tragically neglected. But the "minister" received lots of accolades in the meantime.

As we "grow in Godliness," does that necessarily mean we grow into church-sanctioned ministries (worship leaders, small-group leaders, this-or-that leaders, etc.)? Or does it mean this: we're quietly loving the people in our lives more, even sacrificially, but not even noticing. We're praying more for the needs around us, which we seem to notice more now, but our prayers are mostly private. Meanwhile, we're probably pointing to ourselves less, and to Jesus more. We're more sorry for our own entrenched-seeming sinfulness, and thus more glad of God's grace. We're more satisfied in the given day, in the small, the local, the moment to which God has called us, the now.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It's not heroic. It's nothing to write home about. You're mostly anonymous, and there is no great sense of joining a movement, no shouting, no glory. You're just living in your place, getting rooted, being reliable. You're mostly just walking, almost never soaring. Your life is a folk-song, not a symphony. And someday angels will welcome you home.

Also note:

At Gospel Centric: Examining the Desire for Christian Leadership

And let me end with something I just found over at
I sometimes think that the very essence of the whole Christian position and the secret of a successful spiritual life is just to realize two things … I must have complete, absolute confidence in God and no confidence in myself. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

1 comment:

Erin Hope said...


good reminder.